Jenolan Caves

Sir John Stonehaven - The Ostentatious Viceroy

June 21, 2021

Governor-General and Lady Stonehaven, with their 2 youngest daughters

On 21 June 1926, their Excellencies, the Governor-General and Lady Stonehaven, attended by Flight Lieutenant A. P. Davidson, A.D.C., left Sydney, on a ‘meet the people’ tour  covering Mt Victoria, Jenolan Caves, Oberon, Bathurst, and Orange.

Sir John Lawrence Baird Stonehaven, Governor-General of Australia, 1925 to 1929The previous year, John Lawrence Baird Stonehaven, after receiving a knighthood and being made a Baron, was immediately appointed Australia’s Governor General. 

Stonehaven believed that 'the Representative of the King should live on a different footing and in a different atmosphere from other people'.[i]  In other words, he liked an ostentatious lifestyle!  But as a result he drew criticism from Australia’s Labor Opposition.  And it didn’t help that he also wore a gold-rimmed monocle – an affectation that delighted Aussie satirists of the day.

Mt Victoria

The Vice Regal trip to the Central West of NSW started on June 23. At Mount Victoria, presentations and speeches were well received. The SMH noted that he gave a “practical and kindly address” to the local school children, and the Vice Regal party inspected the historic Mount York reserve.[ii]

Jenolan Caves

Then they moved on, to Jenolan Caves, which Stonehaven had visited 30 years before, in 1891. Jenolan’s well known superintendent, James Wiburd was their guide on both occasions. According to the newspapers of the day, they inspected the Chifley Cave, known back then as the Left Imperial Cave [iii], the first cave in the world to use electric lighting (and even coloured lights, which were considered a marvelous innovation. For historical interest, we still use a few coloured lights.) However, it is much more likely that the V.I.P.s were taken into one of the more recently discovered caves, probably the Orient, which was, and still is, considered one of the world’s most beautiful caves.

article in the Blue Mts Echo about Stonehaven't visit to Jenolan in 1926“Lord Stonehaven expressed amazement at the wonderful caves opened up since his previous visit and the great improvement made in the caves and their surroundings. He said that everything had improved out of sight. Lord and Lady Stonehaven were most interested in the Caves House wallabies - pets of the veteran guide.”[iv] Wiburd, a kind and gentle man, was well-known for taming many of the wild native birds and animals that lived in the valley.

The party stayed overnight in Caves House. At that time, the final extension of Caves House would have been finished - or just about.  The 4-storey extension added a wine bar, smoking room and billiard room to the ground floor, doubled the size of the first floor dining room and added several new guestrooms to the second and third floors.

Times have really changed. In those days, guestrooms didn’t have ensuite bathrooms. They had wash basins and chamber pots. Guests could wander down the corridor to the communal toilets and tubs.  And that was OK, because back then, an indoor toilet was considered quite grand!


Early the next day, they drove to Oberon, to the public school. The Lithgow Mercury printed a detailed account. There was a big turnout. Bunting was draped through the streets. The Union Jack was hoisted. God Save the King was enthusiastically sung (twice). There were speeches, in which the citizenry of Oberon expressed their undying loyalty. The Vice Regal couple were presented with “a handsomely bound album of town and district views”. Stonehaven made a point of addressing the children especially, and then granted them the rest of the day off from school! [v]


Next, they went to Bathurst, where more warm speeches were made, in front of the grand Court House, and the town’s schoolchildren were also given the rest of the day off. After a lunch reception, Stonehaven opened a new X-ray installation which had been donated to Bathurst hospital.[vi]


Then, they sped off for Orange, where, in spite of pouring rain, a huge crowd gathered outside the Town Hall. Once again Stonehaven made a point of addressing the children before granting them the next day off school. “Lord Stonehaven gave a delightful address to the children, whom he urged to be law abiding citizens. He congratulated them upon being not only British, but also Australian. He sealed their friendship by granting them a holiday for to-morrow.”[vii]

The Vice Regal party spent the entire next day in Orange, visiting the Memorial Hall, the hospital, the Australian Hall, the local power plant, Wolaroi College, the Royal Hotel and Wellwood (home of a local pastoralist). They visited the mental asylum and toured the cherry orchards around Mt Canobolus, and the Canobolus public school.[viii] They had 2 nights in Orange before returning to Sydney by train.

Not the Most Popular Governor-General

As Governor-General, Stonehaven loved riding, yachting, golf and entertaining. His entertainment budget was so high that he had to be granted an additional £2000 a year.[ix]  (In today’s money, that is around $166,000.[x])

When the Australian House of Representatives refused to pass legislation in 1929, Stonehaven dissolved the House, at the request of the conservative Prime Minister, Stanley Bruce, forcing a general election. The general election resulted in a landslide change of government. Stonehaven didn’t have the best rapport with the subsequent Labor Prime Minister, James Scullin. When Stonehaven’s term ended (only 4 years rather than 5), Scullin insisted, against the wishes of King George V, that Australia must have its first Australian Governor-General – someone who was the complete opposite of Stonehaven - the learned, austere and dignified High Court Chief Justice, Sir Isacc Isaccs.

Although Jenolan was very honoured to host Stonehaven, he clearly wasn’t the most popular Governor-General. In spite of that, he had a busy and successful career in England both before and after his viceregal stint. Although he married the daughter of the Ninth Earl of Kintore (which inevitably helped his career) he was not born into aristocracy or great wealth. Being very well educated, he worked hard and acquitted himself with honour in a range of governmental and Parliamentary positions. He and Lady Stonehaven had 5 children, and it was clear from his speeches that Stonehaven liked children and was keen to champion the importance of a good education.  When he returned to England he became Chairman of the Conservative Party, and in 1938, was made Viscount Stonehaven, of Ury in the County of Kincardine.[xi]  Lord Stonehaven died in 1941.

Lady Stonehaven

It is quite difficult to find any info about Lady Stonehaven. The House of Lords had been strictly a male domain right up to 1963 [xii]. When her brother also died in 1966, Lady Stonehaven became the Eleventh Countess of Kintore, and although aged 92, her birthright entitled her to enter the House of Lords. So she did [xiii], becoming one of the first women to do so.

Follow in their Footsteps

Now, to support NSW’s 'Holiday Here This Year' campaign, why not plan a fun escape to the Central West, along the simple route taken by the Stonehavens!  But do it slowly, over a few days:

  1. Take 2 nights in the Blue Mountains. Amongst the mountain’s many scenic lookouts, make sure to visit the dramatic Mt York lookout, at Mt Victoria.
  2. Then, enjoy a night or 2 here at Jenolan Caves. Maybe even book an ‘Eat, Dream, Explore’ package, which gives you 2 cave tours, dinner, breakfast and a guestroom (with ensuite), maybe even in the 1926 extension of Caves House, where Lord and Lady Stonehaven most likely stayed.  (You will find our 'Eat, Dream, Explore' package especially tempting with Yulefest coming up throughout July.) Tour the Chifley and Orient Caves. Feel like gentry as you enjoy decadent High Tea in the magnificent Chisolm’s Restaurant.
  3. Next, drive to Oberon, only 30 minutes away. Browse the cafes and small shops. Make sure you stop for at least a couple of hours at the amazing Mayfield Gardens on your way to Bathurst. Tip: Mayfield has a great café.
  4. On the way to Bathurst, you can also stop for a huge meal at the historic O’Connell pub.
  5. There are so many things to see and do in Bathurst, that you need to stay at least 2 nights. While enjoying Mt Panorama, historic homes and museums, don’t forget to walk past the grand Court House, and imagine Stonehaven out the front, making speeches to the huge, cheering crowd.
  6. Orange is only 45 minutes further west. Two nights will give you time to tour this historic town and visit the many cellar doors in this wine region.
  7. Drive home rejuvenated and inspired for your next holiday.

route similar to that taken by Lord Stonehaven in 1926

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